Fantastic look at “Big Data” and Historical Practice

Technology is transforming how we see the past

Historian Richard Bulliet appears to have spent much of the 1960s and 1970s poking holes into punch cards. He was studying the growth of Islam across the Middle East and was taking family information from biographical compilations, and making it machine readable – essentially creating a massive family tree. “I coded this data in ways that enabled me to search and recover repeated technical terms or family relationships as these matters evolved over five centuries.”, he told me. It was made possible thanks to the structure of Islamic names containing the father and paternal grandfather’s name (Both “ibn” and “bin” mean “son of”), as well as some long dead elders having the foresight to keep detailed records. More…

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